Tennessee football has struggled mightily but there are still some reasons for Vols fans to continue to support their team and not give up hope just yet.
It’s a difficult task to keep watching a team when the very sight of them on the field makes you think “Oh, no. Here comes a blowout,” or maybe even “How could this get any worse?!”
Well, there’s good news and bad news for fans of the Tennessee Volunteers football program. Starting with the bad news: the football team you support lost to a Sun Belt team in the Georgia State Panthers that was 2-10 last year, and just got blown out by Western Michigan. You also lost to BYU, in a heart-breaker.
Now, that bad news can be pretty disheartening when not taken with some good news to cushion the blow to your heart, if you’re a Tennessee football fan. However, real Vols faithful will know that there is always a bright side, even facing a Florida team this week that sits ranked at No. 9 in the country.
As a matter of fact, let’s make that five bright sides to this Tennessee football team. I’ve compiled my five best reasons why you should keep watching Tennessee football, even if it sometimes seems too painful to watch, thanks to playing in the best conference in college football, the SEC.
1. The Volunteers defense is drastically better with Daniel Bituli back
After missing the first two games of the season while recovering from a knee procedure that had to take place in this year’s preseason, Vols linebacker Daniel Bituli returned to the field against Chattanooga. Although the 6-foot-3, 252-pound senior inside linebacker didn’t play many minutes (in all fairness, no one did), him getting some time on the field was an important part of getting this Tennessee team back on track.
Though he could potentially have helped the Vols avoid their 0-2 start, Bituli’s absence could benefit the team in the long run, with junior Will Ignont getting some valuable experience in the first two weeks as the team’s signal-caller on defense.
However, Bituli’s return was noteworthy in the time he spent on the field.
From a light-analysis of the games against Brigham Young and Chattanooga, there has been notable growth in the ability of the defensive signal callers for Tennessee. From watching the replay of the first game against Georgia State, it doesn’t take much to see that there were a lot of alignment issues. Upon watching the two most recent games, however, there have been slim to none. The return of Bituli’s experience likely contributed to at least part of this, but his absence also allowed time to grow (albeit losing) for the Vols backups, helping them in the long run.
I’d be in the wrong if I didn’t mention the leaps and bounds of improvement that sophomore Jeremy Banks continues to show in the linebacker position as well, since making the move from running back midway through spring practices. Even with depth issues, the Vols linebackers continue to develop.
2. The Vols wide receivers can help cover for questions on offense
Tennessee’s big three of wide receivers caught just five combined passes against Chattanooga.
In any other article, about any other team the Vols were playing, this would be an issue. However, the blowout win over the Mocs allowed for Tennessee offensive coordinator Jim Chaney to rotate the entire roster of his receivers into the game.
Marquez Callaway, Jauan Jennings and Josh Palmer are capable of being top receivers on this roster, thanks to their shared characteristics. They are all tall, strong and can beat you down the field.
Jarrett Guarantano looked at his best against Chattanooga. However, there are quite a few questions about just how well he’s going to handle the quarterback position when the Vols start SEC season this upcoming week. There is one thing that is certain. Having a solid wide receiver unit to bail him out in tough moments can do wonders.
This trio can do that.
Callaway has largely been the victim of playing in a bottom-of-the-barrel offense statistically but is capable of much, much more if the Vols offense can find a way to get him the ball. I think Callaway is the type of guy who will eventually land on an NFL roster, but thanks to a lackluster offense in his years at Tennessee, his path is a bit harder.
Remember the legendary hail mary catch against Georgia from this Tennessee team? Well, credit that insane grab to Jennings, still on this team.
A healthy Jennings could be the perfect complementary receiver to Callaway, and even the best offensive player on the roster. The trio is tall, but still have decent speed going downfield, and can beat opposing defenses in a variety of ways. Jennings is the emotional leader of the offense, and as a redshirt senior brings the intensity and knowledge that will be pivotal for a struggling offense.
Palmer emerged last year as a talented down-field target, going for 484 yards on 23 catches when he got the ball his way. Like Callaway and Jennings ahead of him, at 6-foot-2 Palmer has a nice mix of speed and size, and looks to become the go-to guy after his Callaway and Jennings leave this offseason. Look for him to grow a lot for the rest of this season.
3. History is on your side
One reason for fans of the Volunteers to continue to attend, watch and support the Vols is the fact that the Rocky Top’s favorite team also comes with an awesome fan base.
The Vols have claimed six national titles in their history, the most recent coming in 1998. They have 13 SEC titles in the meantime, with 16 conference titles as a whole, and are a historically fun program to watch, producing great playmakers like Reggie White, Alvin Kamara, Jason Witten and Peyton Manning was pretty good too, I’ve been told.
The orange and white team colors date all the way back to 1891, and the checkerboard end zones are some of the most unique in the football world. There’s so much history to this program, and that’s not to mention that the Vol Walk has become a tradition copied by many throughout football.
Tennessee fans, if you’re reading this and you currently find your loyalty wavering to Old Rocky Top, just remember that history, and tradition, are on your side. Your team has the ninth-most victories of all-time, and maybe, just maybe, you’ll be back to winning soon.
4. The Vols have their confidence back after blowing out Chattanooga
Florida plays Tennessee this week with backup quarterback Kyle Trask getting the start in relief of the injured Feleipe Franks. That could be an emotional letdown for the Gators ahead of this rivalry game.
The Vols, on the other hand, seemed to find their footing with a rebound domination of Chattanooga this past week, while the Gators narrowly slipped by the Kentucky Wildcats. They’ll still have their hands full with Dan Mullen’s team, but if they can put some pressure on Trask and the Gators offense, they may have a (small) shot at an upset.
Trask did, however, come in and completed 9-of-13 passes for 126 yards against the Wildcats and also has the ability to run with the football. He puts a nice touch on passes, but if the Vols can step up on defense and force him into tough situations, there’s always hope.
To ask for an upset from the Vols, on the road, would be a big ask. However, even if you don’t expect there to be a chance for an upset on Saturday. A good, solid showing for the Vols could go a long way in restoring the confidence of the Volunteers’ faithful, especially if the newly-minted offensive line can continue to produce as they did against Chattanooga.
5. The Vols special teams are top-tier
With how disheartening this season has been so far, you may require an oddly specific reason to be happy about the team. If that’s the case, here’s your reason: the special teams are fantastic.
Far too often do kickers, punters and long snappers, some of the most essential parts of a football team, get overlooked for their quality and impact. The lack of a capable and confident special teams core can ruin a football team. Fortunately for the Vols, kickers Brent Cimaglia and Paxton Brooks are great, with Brooks even contributing in the punting sphere in the Vols win against Chattanooga.
The return men showed great skill as well in that win over the Mocs, with Ty Chandler returning a kickoff 58 yards and Brandon Johnson returning a blocked punt for a touchdown. This combination of special teams players could be one of the most talented and best-performing positional groups on the Rocky Top roster.
I know, I know. It’s a bit of a stretch to ask you to keep watching a football team because your punter is really good at pinning opposing offenses deep in their own territory, and your kicker can hit from beyond 55 yards– but let me tell you, it could be worse! Besides Tennessee knows good punters when they see one as about a dozen of famous punting Colquitts have come through Knoxville
Take some heart, Tennessee fans, in the fact that you have elite special teams. Now to get the rest of the team to follow suit. And if you should ever start to doubt again, just revisit this list (or watchin highlights from 1998 on repeat).